Sun, May 01, 2011 - Page 3 News List

Navy captain leaves lasting legacy after untimely death

By J. Michael Cole  /  Staff Reporter

For Wendell Minnick, who has long covered Taiwanese defense matters for publications such as Jane’s Defence Weekly and now Defense News, Li’s impact on Taiwan’s security was undeniable. And like many others, his first encounter with Li tool place at a watering hole.

“I met Winston in a bar in the ‘Combat Zone’ with a group of US Pentagon officials in 2001,” Minnick said. “He was a character out of a Tom Clancy novel. The Pentagon guys called him by a codename, ‘Grover,’ which I never fully understood.”

“Winston was one of these rare bulldog military types that got things done that needed doing. He was only a captain in the navy, but his influence was incredible,” he said.

It was largely Li who, after Taipei secured the Kidd-class destroyers — the first two of which were commissioned in December 2005 — ensured the navy’s commitment to move forward with the platform.

“At the time, Taiwan still wanted Aegis destroyers and was hesitant to procure the Kidds, but Winston knew that the US would never release the Aegis,” Minnick said. “The Kidds were the last chance Taiwan’s navy had at getting a major warship from the US.”

However, aside from his wealth of professional knowledge and enlightened intelligence, Li also had a feisty temperament, which did not always put him in the good graces of his colleagues or superiors.

“Winston’s ability to move the navy in the right direction did not always earn him brownie points in the upper echelons of the navy brass,” Minnick said. “He would never be made an admiral and was punished more than once for being too friendly to the press and the US military.”

Over time, fraternization issues became a problem for Li, but in Minnick’s view, that was the only way he could get things done.

“Taiwan’s military is somewhat schizophrenic. They need the US military, but don’t want to be seen as too dependent on US firepower,” he said. “This left huge gaps in communication between the two sides and Winston bridged these fissures.”

Li was so effective that on more than one occasion, the US Department of State tried to have him sent back to Taipei, Fisher said. However, he understood that the defense of Taiwan’s freedom was inextricably linked to the defense of US freedom and efforts to sideline him left him undeterred.

“Winston was the anti--bureaucrat who eventually carved his own place within a military bureaucracy, a diplomatic commando that was often ahead of and more effective than the diplomats and a friend who challenged us to live up to our own values,” Fisher said.

Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the US-Taiwan Business Council, said of Li that in the absence of a permanent and professional staff handling defense and security issues for the legislature’s Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee, he was the indispensable link between the legislature’s senior leadership on defense and security issues and those in the US working closely with Taiwan on defense matters.

“His deep knowledge of the subject matter combined with a love of country and Taiwan’s armed forces made for a capable partner,” said Hammond-Chambers, who interacted with Li in the latter phases of his career. “His boss is obviously one of the most important national security figures in Taiwan and Winston was the man behind the scenes offering counsel and carrying out orders.”

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